Stepping out onto the windswept patch of pavement, Joe asks, “We’re not going to get arrested, right?” Arrogantly, I reply, “Nah, the only thing we’re going to disturb is a jackrabbit two dunes over.” Joe’s hesitation is understandable. We’re unloading his baby—only narrowly second to his actual human child. And after a couple quick glances down the road to make doubly sure there aren’t any CHP officers within earshot, we lower the trailer’s tailgate and slowly bring Scarbo Performance’s SVF1 onto the abandoned street.
The car doesn’t have headlights. It doesn’t have taillights, or bumpers, or a windshield. It also doesn’t have a title, insurance, or registration. It doesn’t even have a VIN. It comes equipped with foot-wide track-ready tires. And the road is sandy as all hell. I mean, we could’ve rented a much safer racetrack, hung out in a nice garage, and not had grit in our eyes. But hey, I look hot in goggles. Sandy street it is.
The SVF1 is modeled after a 1967 Ferrari F312 Formula 1 racer. The F312 wasn’t as successful as its descendants, and raced in a season filled with fatal crashes and missed wins. The late 1960s was when aerodynamic designs were being popularized in F1, but even with legendary drivers like Jacky Ickx, Derek Bell, and John Surtees behind the wheel, the F312 just wasn’t as competitive as the Ford-Cosworth-powered Lotus. In a beauty contest though, it’s a winner, considered one of the most beautiful Formula 1 designs ever, which is why Joe Scarbo decided to create his own.
It’s hard to find good videos of the F312 that aren’t digital video game renders, this might be a ’70 rather than the ’67 that Joe’s car is modeled on, but it sounds amazing.
Joe worked on the development of the SVF1 for years, and his passion, late-night cheeseburger jams, and many restless nights show in every detail. The SVF1 could be the Ferrari’s twin. Joe beat, molded, painted, welded, heated, moved, sweated on, and adjusted each panel and fastener to make sure it was just like the original, except for one glaring, American middle finger: The SVF1 powered by an LS1 V-8.
Ferrari V-12 engines are expensive, maintenance is hell, and the cost of a broken part might be more than your mortgage. Joe wanted something a little bit, shall we say, more reliable? The Chevy engine is finished with eight polished-aluminum velocity stacks and a custom exhaust that brings all eight header tubes into a one-off Magnaflow-fabricated collector.
When Joe and I first met, he had just started putting the SVF1 together. The handshaped aluminum body wasn’t painted and looked striking and he had just gotten the engine running. He told me the first time the LS1 kicked on, he thought the engine was about to explode; the exhaust sounded like the car was over-revving. After frantically killing the motor, he looked at the data and was gobsmacked that it registered barely above 2,500 rpm before he shut it off.
That aural onslaught now awaits me.
The spindly suspension components, glasslike handbeaten aluminum body, and towering velocity stacks look alien in this environment. This car belongs on the streets of Monaco, not here slumming it with two schlubby dudes in dorky sunglasses and motocross goggles.
Joe makes a couple last-minute inspections after topping off the custom seven-gallon fuel tank, and gestures me into the car. I eagerly slide into the tight cockpit. My wide (all right, chubby) hips barely fit between the fuel tank extensions that run along the SVF1’s body. Maybe I should’ve eaten fewer chicken wings the night before. The SVF1’s suede Sparco steering wheel sits on the shell of the car waiting to be snapped into place as I fumble with the six-point racing harness and arm restraints meant to keep my hands from flying out of the cockpit in the event of a roll over—Let’s not test them, I say to myself.
In the cockpit, I flick the ignition switch—a single mechanical aluminum toggle—and hear the fuel pump prime as well as a flurry of electrical whirring, like an orchestra conductor tapping his baton on a pedestal signaling his musicians to begin. The Racepak gauge cluster lights up, bright even in the desert sunshine. The car is ready. I push the little starter button and a volcano erupts two inches behind my head. The manic crackles and pops of the cold engine send shockwaves through the scrub brush.
For a brief second, I’m frozen. Scared. This car, if you can even call it that, weighs just 1,300 pounds. Even with an additional 200 pounds of driver, 430 horsepower delivers a power-to-weight ratio to rival most modern hypercars. Joe gives me an enthusiastic thumbs up and I pull my goggles down, and brace myself in the shoebox cockpit.
Popping the five-speed gearbox into first, I push the clutch in and roar off.
My first thought isn’t, “Holy god, what have I gotten myself into?” It’s “Why the hell isn’t the clutch stiffer?” The “HOLY GOD!” comes later. This isn’t the grabby, heavy race clutch I expected. It feels perfect, like a properly weighted kitchen knife slicing through a steak. It begs you for repeated up and down shifts. You just want to rip through the gears like Ayrton Senna aiming for a lap record at Spa. It’s addictive, some kind of high-tech uberdrug. It’s so addictive, I consider hightailing it to Mexico, although Joe seems like he’d track me down, Liam Neeson from Taken-style.
Torque comes low in the rev range, the lightweight chassis surges forward with the urgency and violence of a rockslide. First, second, and third fly by. This SVF1 is only allowed to rev to about 5,500 rpm due to a conservative benchmarking tune. Joe plans on upping the rev limit later in the drivetrain’s development to allow drivers to get that feeling of a high-revving classic race car. I can’t even imagine the sound of this thing at scream-line.
Behind the wheel, I’m a caveman. I’ve devolved and am all primal snake-brain. Every vibration, every rock, every nuance of the street is telegraphed back through the suspension to the miniscule Sparco steering wheel. A slight twitch yanks the front wheels towards the other side of the road. A sharp flick brings it back into the lane.
Turning around for a run back to the tow vehicle, the unassisted steering rack makes you work for every inch of steering angle. With a three-point turn finally executed, and my biceps shamefully tired, I line the car up and stomp on the gas, leaving a generous smear of Avon tire on the pavement.
Gravel and sand are hitting me in the face, but I could drive through a cactus-filled tornado in this car, and I wouldn’t care. From the cockpit, you can see every moving piece. The two-way adjustable coil-over race suspension wiggles and writhes with every undulation in the road. You can see the tires load and deform as you turn the wheel. From behind the car, you see the electronic solenoids that control fuel flow open and close at the base of the velocity stacks. Then, again, that sound.
In the cockpit, the induction from the trumpets fight the baritone bravado of the exhaust. It’s like a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a Transformer are fighting to see which is the loudest only a few millimeters behind my head. I’ve never been happier knowing I’m hurting myself.
An upshift to fourth, and the end of the road is rapidly approaching. I drive the brake pedal towards the floor, and it stops with such brutal efficiency that I’m 50 feet ahead of where I actually planned to stop. Unlike its 1960s looks, the SVF1 stops like a modern Porsche GT3 RS thanks to its 11.8-inch rotors front and back, six-piston Wilwood calipers, and microscopic weight. Thankfully, the six-point harness keeps me locked in place.
I begin running the numbers of what I’d have to sell to afford one. A base, rolling chassis without the hand beaten aluminum skin—a fiberglass unit— from Joe’s SoCal workshop without an engine or transmission will set you back $79,500. For a turn-key unit like this one, customized to your specs and choice of color, think $175,000 or higher depending on choices. No small sum. However, when you look at prices for real vintage race cars, ones that are likely to break down, have astronomical part prices, and require babying so your investment doesn’t evaporate, Joe’s SVF1 is a screaming deal.
My hands shaking, my heart thumping through my chest, ungracefully, I step out of SVF1. Joe just looks at me and asks, “So?” I can’t think of a thing to say. This car is beyond anything I’ve ever driven. The SVF1 is a car that defies logic, defies norms, laughs at rules and laws and common decency.
All I can muster is, “I need one of these and so does everyone else.”